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That Microsoft is making Windows free for consumer tablet and smart phone makers is historic. It doesn’t mean Redmond is on the verge of giving away the store – especially for the enterprise – but it does further signify a shift away from a Windows centrism that threatens Microsoft with irrelevance.

It was about 40 years ago that young Bill Gates upset the early microcomputer hobbyist community by packaging and selling software. The idea that software is something you buy has been sacred to Microsoft to this day.

Further to Microsoft orthodoxy is the idea that one particular type of software, the computer operating system, was something that was sold and licensed to a particular device. That started with MS-DOS for PCs in the 80s, then Windows for PCs in the 90s, and Windows Server into the new millennium.

Call it a Windows first policy – a policy that made Microsoft billions but has been an impediment to modern trends in virtualization, cloud computing, and mobility.

In the mobile world in particular Microsoft has missed a big boat with a miniscule number of Windows-running devices while Google’s free Android has dominated followed by Apple’s IOS. Meanwhile sales of the venerable PC (and laptop) are cratering big time.

So now Microsoft is talking “Cloud first and Mobile first” and moving away from Windows first. Following the March 24th announcement of Office (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint) for the iPad we now get news that Windows is going to be free for some mobile devices.

These moves are limited. For example the free Windows is only for consumer devices of nine-inch screen or smaller and Windows was only costing $5 to $15 for these devices before. But they do underscore Microsoft’s intention that the so called post-PC era will not be the post Microsoft era. The question is whether this is too little too late.

Meanwhile businesses are grappling with Microsoft licensing that remains Windows centric and device centric. Though there have been some changes to bend to trends such as cloud and virtualization, a clean break with past has not been made.

Info-Tech clients have had success, to save money and aggravation, in grappling with the resulting maze that is Microsoft licensing. Check out the infographic below for our Microsoft licensing solution (click on the image for larger view and to go to our project blueprint). In spite of cloud first and mobile first this isn’t a story due to get easier (or cheaper) any time soon.

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It is not longer a question of “if” the consumerization trends behind cloud file sharing will compete with traditional Enterprise Content Management (ECM). It is a simple matter of “when” and when is 2014.

That was the impression Info-Tech analysts Tim Hickernell and Ben Dickie came away with from the recent BoxWorks conference in San Francisco. BoxWorks is an annual conference held by Box, a leading cloud file sharing vendor focused on the enterprise

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Info-Tech has been covering cloud file sharing for two years now and has predicted the technology’s ability to be a disruptive technology for traditional ECM and collaboration platforms, especially Microsoft’s SharePoint. To date, we have advocated complementary co-existence with collaboration platforms and mid-range ECM like SharePoint. However new features announced at BoxWorks 2013, such as metadata support, lightweight workflow rules, high fidelity viewers and basic document creation/authoring, raise the stakes and clearly indicate that in some cases, enterprises can replace or use Box in lieu of SharePoint for common document collaboration use cases.

Microsoft’s goal was indeed to democratize ECM for the masses by giving away entry level SharePoint and exploiting it as a Loss-Leader for add-ons and to further nurture the Microsoft development community. They believed that “free” would lower the entry barriers so as to ensure IT adoption and knowledge worker acceptance.

They were wrong.

While IT rushed to embrace SharePoint as a content sharing platform, after 10 years it is clear that knowledge workers have rejected the complex content management metaphors and lack of time, place and device ubiquity that it offers. Despite the inelegance and lack of manageability with simple file folder hierarchies, knowledge workers understand folders and don’t need help from IT to use them for business value. Add cloud ubiquity to the mix and it’s all but over. Cloud file sharing vendors have won over the average knowledge worker and consumerization of IT is once again democratizing another well-established business application domain, this time ECM.

Box is already the enterprise leader in cloud file sharing services due to an intentional strategy to focus on enterprise use cases.  Box offers centralized administration and is executing an effective partner strategy comprising integrations with numerous existing enterprise applications such as CRM and ERP. Indeed, Info-Tech recently awarded Box “Champion” status in our Cloud File Sharing Vendor Landscape, mostly based on strong enterprise credentials. Over the next two quarters, Box will be releasing numerous enhancements, once again aimed at the enterprise, such as:

  • High fidelity document viewing. Full integration of the high fidelity HTML5-based document viewing technology it acquired from Crocodoc. This enables Box to remove the need for native authoring apps to view documents on any platform . In an increasingly mobile-driven  work, this is a necessity to support document collaboration on any platform, especially mobile. By ensuring high fidelity of the original document, transformation to PDF is not required, unless the after-market features of PDF are desired, such as form fields or layers.
  • Document metadata. Box is adding the ability to tag objects stored in Box for manipulation in custom views, apps and workflows from both the web application and the API. Note that Box has already showcased customers demanding bulk input and delivery of files, such as one client that automates the drop of 500k files to customers at the beginning of each day. Enabling document metadata is of course a natural evolution to enable content lifecycle automation, a key feature of much more complex traditional ECM products. Box even demo’d one client’s use of metadata to output dynamic. While Adobe and many other output management vendors have been doing this for as long as two decades, Info-Tech suspects that with Box, building custom content assembly solutions on its platform won’t cost you six or seven figures, as with prevailing enterprise document assembly solutions. To be fair, while the prototype assembly app we saw was nothing near as functional and rich as Adobe Digital Publisher, the bones are there. For now, the target will be better integration between Box and existing ECM and workflow systems. A private beta is will begin in a few months.
  • New iPhone and iPad app. Following the acquisition of iOS app, Folders, Box has completely rewritten the app to focus on speed, security and meeting the ever rising user expectations on the new iOS apps. Users will gain a new and much faster preview for high fidelity files, including audio and videos, support for over 100 file types for server-side conversion to preview, ability to turn pages and search within PDFs.  The new iOS app has much improved real time search, offer the ability to work with multiple files at a time (for move/copy/delete actions) and a more prominent showcase for Box OneCloud application gallery in the user interface for easier access to the partner ecosystem.
  • Box Notes. Box Notes is a new collaborative content creation app aimed mostly at note taking scenarios for now. It includes the ability for users to see each other and make changes and annotate in the note in real-time. While the comparisons to Evernote were spreading at the conference as freely as San Francisco fog, Evernote and OneNote shouldn’t start worrying just yet. Box Notes is complementary to collaboration patterns that by definition are file-centric. Evernote and OneNote enable capture and recall of any type of information in almost any form, from files to snippets. The product is being positioned as “between word processing and communication.” Box Notes enters limited beta soon.
  • New Policies and Automation Engine. The Box platform is gaining a new rules and automation engine. For now, the first exposure of this engine to users will be through the admin console, to enable policy automation for security and compliance. Combined with capabilities of Box partners like CipherCloud and Code Green Networks, full Data Loss Prevention (DLP) can be implemented. But the larger question is what else can they build on top of the new rules engine? A business user workflow builder, especially a graphical drag and drop WYSIWYG tool, is a likely next step in our opinion.

While some of Box’s competitors will likely be acquired by traditional ECM and collaboration vendors, it’s clear that Box is plunging full steam ahead to deliver a consumerized version of ECM designed for the way people want to work in today’s increasingly cloud-enabled, mobile-connected social work environments.  Microsoft  SharePoint 2013 as a cloud service, coupled with SkyDrive Pro in every enterprise tier of Office 365, ensures Microsoft will remain Box’s top competitor in the near future.

But what about the cloud privacy concerns? Will there be sufficient demand for cloud file storage and content collaboration? Box’s latest stats show 20 million users at 180k companies, with some level of presence (not defined) at 97% of Fortune 500 companies. Our analysts spoke with dozens of Box customers and attendees and challenged them about the perception of cloud privacy. We found custom solutions written to the Box API to be commonplace among financial services customers, especially in the mid-market. All spoke of the competitive advantage of reduced cost and time to market by using Box’s API at the heart of their solutions, with little concern about security during storage in Box’s data centers or file transfer. Most were focused on device-level security though and had adopted a Mobile Device Management (MDM) vendor. And the most popular use case we observed that was driven solely by IT was the remote backup and restore scenario. CIOs and IT Directors we spoke with were convinced that using cloud file sharing services to sync end user documents to the cloud, so that IT’s restore role is a simple re-imaging of the company’s standard laptop configuration added great value in terms of reduced support costs and restoration times. Many of those same IT leaders shared with us plans to migrate users from laptops to tablets on their roadmap.

Bottom Line: As an industry leader, Box is executing a strategy that is clearly designed to take advantage of the current IT consumerization trends to democratize traditional enterprise content management. They won’t be the only cloud file sharing vendor to do so. Organizations refreshing and expanding content lifecycle automation, especially for mobile document delivery, capture and collaboration among knowledge workers, should consider cloud file sharing services as a component of their system design. But organizations must ensure vendors have robust platforms, high capacity APIs and enterprise-class controls. Simply having a nice remote device synchronization client, connected to the cloud, will not provide strategic advantage in the long run and this capability already being commoditized by Microsoft SkyDrive Pro.

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LSP modelThe LAR (large account reseller) is dead. In with the LSP (licensing solutions provider).

Microsoft is rebranding its largest sales force to give it a less “salesy” feel. In reality, are they still resellers? Yes. They are just going to try harder to sell you on devices and cloud services in addition to pushing the usual suspects.

There are a lot of strategic reasons behind this move. As BYOD becomes more prevalent and businesses seek solutions to share user experience across devices, Microsoft wants to become the de facto solution for filling the gap. One competitor that Microsoft specifically mentioned was Android. How is the Android a threat to Microsoft outside of mobility? Android users activate their phones through Gmail accounts, which could translate to Gmail and Google Docs users. As Microsoft is trying to grow O365 usage, it does not want to lose customers to Google Docs or Exchange clients to Gmail.  Microsoft’s push to devices is more than an attempt to simply get into the mobility game, it is a strategy to save and grow their current services.

LARs, now LSPs, already have relationships with companies, so they can naturally offer the devices and cloud services that Microsoft is pushing. As stated in previous posts, Microsoft has a goal of selling 2.1B devices and moving 40% of its business to cloud services, so there are some major changes coming.

Amidst all of the changes, many licensing issues still remain the same. There is still a big push to upsell Software Assurance to clients, and there are still many intricacies to be worked out including licensing transitions for SQL server 2012, Windows Server 2012, and other relatively new products.

The processor to core changes with SQL server have been particularly difficult for many clients and resellers to navigate though and I was assured that there won’t be further changes coming any time soon. They also went over the ways that customers are saving money and how Microsoft will make money through these changes, which was also very insightful. I would suggest seeking additional clarity on these issues when it comes time to license, not only to make sure you are transitioning correctly, but also to ensure that you are not paying for services that you don’t need or won’t use. This falls in line with something I heard a reseller say at the conference: Don’t sell your customers stuff they don’t need.

This side statement from a Microsoft rep was one of the most refreshing things I heard at WPC, and it’s something everyone should take to the bank. Granted, Microsoft genuinely believes you need practically every service they offer, but the sentiment is still nice.

The take home:
Some big changes are happening with licensing. LARs are now called LSPs and have a mandate to push mobility and services. Even with the rebranding, the interest still lies in selling your product. Always be sure to do your research and double-check any questions you might have with an unbiased third party.

Licensing model transitions have been difficult for everybody involved. It is always worth seeking clarification and advice whenever there are changes to your licensing model.

For help saving money and understanding your Microsoft licensing see Info-Tech’s Purchase Optimization solution.


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163983107With a goal to earn 40% of its revenue from cloud services, Microsoft is betting its business on the cloud.

As a licensing analyst attending the WPC, one theme resonated above the rest – cloud. Cloud was woven into almost every aspect of the conference and Microsoft is taking giant steps to push everyone in that direction. “Accelerating Our Customers’ MOVE to Our Cloud!” was Microsoft’s #2 strategy for the upcoming fiscal year and this was obvious everywhere (See my previous blog post for coverage on Microsoft’s #1 strategy, “Winning in Mobile with tablets and phones!”).

My favorite cloud promo featured the Dutch air force connecting to the Microsoft cloud through Windows 8 tablets while in flight. This literally takes moving to the cloud to a whole new dimension and left me wondering two questions; who is their internet service provider, and how do I switch.

Why would Microsoft be pushing so hard in this direction?

Microsoft believes Cloud is the next big wave in the evolution of technology. This could very well be true. I also believe a huge driver of cloud services is the subscription model that keeps Microsoft in your pocket. According to Microsoft, its cloud software users provide 1.3x the revenue of its on-premise software users.

Microsoft drove the message home when it told its own partners to move to the cloud. It wants partners to transition to O365 so they can sell the product better. Currently, only about 1 in 30 partners are transacting in the cloud, and Microsoft wants to see that number grow substantially.

The strongest messaging on cloud came in a Microsoft keynote claiming that Office 365 and Azure are the collective future of Microsoft and its partners. Partners were cautioned by Microsoft, and told that if they don’t lead customers to the cloud, to the future, someone else will.

Microsoft went out of its way to urge partners to be aggressive and tenacious in pushing the cloud. If you are a Microsoft client, you can expect a cloud pitch from your reseller.

Considerations:

Be prepared! A push to the cloud is coming. Microsoft and your reseller want you there, and will continue to try and sway you that way.

Build a strategy. Assess whether public, private, and hybrid cloud will work with your business model. It does have the potential to reduce infrastructure and deployment costs.

Find your ROI fit. Many organizations do not stay up to date with the latest versions of products. Often they skip versions of software and do not redeploy for several years. If this sounds like your company, be cautious before becoming reliant on cloud services. Remember, cloud services are priced under a subscription model that lacks economical options for license ownership. Beware cloud lock-in.

However, if your company plans on staying up to date with the latest versions, prefers cloud as a deployment option, and is interested in taking advantage of the flexibility of   a subscription model, then the cloud might be a perfect fit for your organization.

As licensing moves to incorporate cloud, it is becoming increasingly important to develop a cloud strategy. Having a solid understanding of all the costs, risks and benefits particular to your organization will help you save money and find the best licensing match.

Look to my next post about the WPC for commentary on some of the licensing-specific information that came out of the conference.

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When you hear the name, “Microsoft”, devices are not what comes to mind. Microsoft wants to change that . . . badly.

The recent Microsoft World Partner Conference in Houston was all about how Microsoft wants to be your devices and services company. Software? That’s the old Microsoft.

Many tactics were used to promote devices at WPC 2013 – my favorite being the attendee who was invited to drop his iPhone into a cup of coffee, completely ruining it, just to get a Windows phone.  Did he regret this decision?  Who knows.  But I did sense some sentimentality when he asked to see his iPhone again after it was already submerged.

WPC 2013 offered great insight into the world of Microsoft and the new directions they are taking. A huge focus of the event was stressing a transition to devices and services, and as an analyst who deals specifically with Microsoft Licensing, I was left with plenty to consider.

Winning in Mobile

“Winning in Mobile with tablets and phones” is Microsoft’s #1 strategy for the upcoming fiscal year. Convincing partners to get behind this was a major part of the WPC game plan.

The conference began with a lot of hoopla about the new Windows phones and Surface tablets.  This included a center-stage keynote demonstration on how you can share one experience across all the devices in your life. It was impressive and Microsoft certainly transferred excitement to their crowd… which could be expected as the audience was entirely Microsoft partners.

Microsoft went to further this hype cycle by making a great offering to partners on the Surface. Included in this offer were massive discounts, and massive lines.  I found it interesting that, at a partner conference, they would understaff their store in order to ‘create buzz through long lines’. Partners certainly could have been doing better things with their time than standing in lines for up to 3 hours. Regardless, the strategy created device hype and got new Microsoft products into partners’ hands, converting users to believers.

Currently Microsoft has set a goal to sell 2.1B devices including phones, tablets and PCs.  This is a massive undertaking and you should expect to hear about it soon from your reseller.  Speaking of resellers, they are currently being rebranded to ‘Licensing Solutions Providers’ as they strive to move into the cloud and device market.  I will have more on this transition as well as how they are ‘betting the company on the cloud’ in subsequent blogs.

What this means to you:

Microsoft is making a huge push on devices; both tablets and phones. How will this translate to the real marketplace where people aren’t living in a Microsoft commercial with massive discounts? Only time will tell.

For the business user, Microsoft claims that their phones are more secure than their competitors and promises a unified shared experience between devices and PCs.  I would expect to see a unified Microsoft purchasing experience from resellers as well.

Will investing in these devices really create a positive ROI?  I am not convinced, but think they offer a strong alternative to other devices on the market.  As with all Microsoft products, optimization comes down to your individual needs and uses.  The best play, as always, is to build out an appropriate strategy that fits your organization.

For help saving money with your Microsoft licensing see the Purchase Optimization web page.

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